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|NO ENTRY FOR PAKISTANIS|
Indo-Pak peace process. People-to-people contact. Confidence building measures. Two countries tied by an umbilical chord. Cultural commonalties.
These and many other such expressions that stem from a fervent hope that India and Pakistan will be friends again someday have no meaning if you are a Pakistani looking for a hotel room in Mumbai.
Just days after Pakistani actor Hasan Zaidi was denied a room in a Juhu hotel, Mumbai Mirror reporter Danish Khan did the rounds of seven hotels in south Mumbai posing as a Pakistani and found how deeply suspicious hotel managements are of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
While the Juhu hotel has since tendered an unconditional apology to Zaidi and he did find accommodation in another hotel, four hotels -- Hotel Apollo, Colaba; Sea Green Hotel, Marine Drive; Regent Hotel, Colaba; and Sea Palace, Colaba -- would not entertain Danish even after he told them that he has intimated the Special Branch of Mumbai police of his presence in Mumbai, as every foreigner is required to under Indian laws.
At one hotel, the front office suddenly realised there were no rooms available as soon as Danish revealed he was from Pakistan. This was just minutes after they had not only confirmed availability but even discussed room tariffs with him in detail.
Front office executives in other three hotels were deeply apologetic but unrelenting. "No sir, we have strict instruction not to allow any Pakistani or Bangladeshi guest," said an executive at Hotel Sea Palace. He, however, refused to explain the discrimination. "This is the hotel policy, sir," is all he would say.
Staff at all four hotels rather helpfully suggested a few hotels in the neighbourhood that, they said, accepted Pakistani and Bangladeshi guests. They were right, Ritz near Churchgate, Astoria a few blocks from Ritz and Strand in Colaba had no problem renting Danish a room. Of course, at each of these places he quietly slipped out when the staff sought to see his passport and other documents.
Industry sources said hotels' reluctance to accept Pakistani and Bangladeshi guests stems mainly from the unwanted attention these guests bring from the police. "Cops come in at odd hours snooping around and question Pakistani and Bangladeshi guests. The last thing any hotel management wants is presence of police on the premises," he said.
Additional Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Suresh Kakad, said hotels can't and should not refuse rooms to Pakistani nationals if they are able to provide all documents. "There is a procedure which they (hotels) have to follow after which they can take Pakistani nationals," Kakad said.
The main element of this procedure is a 'C form' that the hotels need to fill and submit to the nearest police station if they take a Pakistani guest.
|HOTLE APOLLO, COLABA|
The hotel's lobby, spick and span, was brimming with people. I approached the front desk and asked for a room. "Single or double," asked a middle-aged man. "Single would do," I replied.
"It will work out to be Rs 3,200," said the executive. "The rate is fine. Will you require any documents since I am a Pakistani," I said. The man hurriedly consulted a colleague in another part of the lobby and returned a couple of minutes later. "Sorry Sir, there are no rooms available tonight," he said.
"But you just gave me the rates," I said.
"I am sorry, sir. There are no rooms available," he said. I left the hotel.
|SEA GREEN HOTEL, MARINE DRIVE|
As I entered the lobby, I was greeted by a smiling gentleman. When I inquired if there was a room available, he asked me to have a seat. "I am just checking the availability, sir," he said.
After a couple of minutes he informed me that a room are available. "Single room would cost you Rs 2,100 plus service charges and luxury tax," he said.
"Thanks. I am from Pakistan so..." The executive did not even allow me to complete the sentence. "I am sorry sir, I can't give you a room," he said apologetically.
I asked him what if I had said I was coming from Gwalior or Aurangabad? "I know it is not fair, sir, but we have been instructed that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis can't be given rooms," he said, and added "you can try some other hotels I am sure they will be of help to you," he said.
|REGENT HOTEL, COLABA|
As I approached the front desk, I overheard an executive telling a guest that rooms are available.
"I am coming from Pakistan and am looking for a room..." Once again I was cut short. "Sorry there are no rooms available," the executive said.
"I need one after two days," I said.
"We are sorry Sir, why don't you try another hotel across the road," the executive replied.
The staff here were the most straight-forward in stating their 'policy' of not allowing Pakistani and Bangladeshi guests. "We do not allow Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. It is our policy to not let out rooms to Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals," an employee said. "But I can give you my passport, visa and other details. I have informed the police about my presence in the city. What problem do you have in giving out a room to a Pakistani national," I asked.
"Sorry, we can't give you a room," he said.
|A FEW GOOD ONES|
HOTEL ASTORIA, CHURCHGATE
Even as two employees checked availability of rooms, I informed the front desk executive that I am from Pakistan. "It would have been a pleasure to serve you, sir, but we do not have any rooms available. You can try at Hotel Ritz just across the road," said the executive.
RITZ HOTEL, CHURCHGATE
"Rooms are available, but you will have to give us your passport," the executive said. When I told him the passport was with a friend who will join me in a couple of hours, the executive said: "Rooms are available but can be given only after getting documents."
STRAND HOTEL, COLABA
This hotel did not have any problem giving me a room. When informed about the Pakistani connection, a front desk executive asked for my passport. My story about the documents being with a friend did not wash. He politely asked me to take a seat till the friend arrived with the documents.
|I was invited to attend the Karachi Film Festival by Mahesh Bhatt. Initially I was a bit apprehensive as I'd never been to Pakistan earlier. But I was shocked to see a huge mob welcoming us with flower petals at the airport at 3 am. Even at the hotels, people showed tremendous affection and love and recognition and it was all so unexpected.|
- Actor Gulshan Grover